Of big & ‘small’ & economic ignorance

Of big & ‘small’ & economic ignorance

Dribble by dribble, word slowly is emerging about whom locally received millions of dollars from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program designed to help small businesses. If they use 60 percent of the loan for payrolls, the “loan” is forgiven.

But don’t expect to know all of the recipients; the federal government won’t identify those receiving under $150,000. And that represents about 80 percent of all Pennsylvania takers.

And don’t expect to learn the specific amounts that larger recipients received; that appears to be a state secret.

And then there’s the fact that a number of the “small business” recipients stretch what most people would consider to be as such.

What we do know from data released by the U.S. Small Business Administration (and reported by a variety of news outlets) are the names of the bigger-money recipients.

One was the Eat’n Park restaurant chain with about 60 stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Its annual revenues are estimated at between $100 million and $500 million. It received between $5 and $10 million.

Is this a “small business”?

Then there’s the Babst Calland law firm, Pittsburgh’s sixth-largest and with offices in five other cities, including Washington, D.C. It also received between $5 million and $10 million.

Is this a “small business”?

Or how about the Dickie McCamey law firm, an even larger “small business” with 20 offices, in Pittsburgh and in some of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas. It received between $5 million and $10 million, too.

These loans were distributed under the auspices of the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Ahem.

The Associated Press and other news organizations have filed a lawsuit seeking the names of those businesses that received under $150,000. Those names and specific amounts must be made public.

The SBA has not released the exact amounts given to the larger “small businesses” but those specific amounts, too, must be made public.

After all, it’s that public that’s footing the bill, right?

The lack of transparency in the Paycheck Protection Program must not be tolerated, neither in times good nor pandemic.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we keep hearing more and more political leaders talking about the need for the “right” public policies to help the economy bounce back.

More’s the pity, however, what they consider to be sound public policy.

Instead of getting out of the way and allowing the economy to find its footing naturally, government interventions are running amok. “The only way to revive the economy is for the government to direct its comeback,” far too many pols are either intimating or saying outright.

This kind of mindset is paralleling dangerously close to government “industrial policy” in which those in government have the hubris to believe they possess all the information they require to command the economy back to prosperity.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).